To be a bee

Could I but ride indefinite,
As doth the meadow-bee,
And visit only where I liked,
And no man visit me,

And flirt all day with buttercups,
And marry whom I may,
And dwell a little everywhere,
Or better, run away

With no police to follow,
Or chase me if I do,|
Till I should jump peninsulas
To get away from you,—

I said, but just to be a bee
Upon a raft of air,
And row in nowhere all day long,
And anchor off the bar,—
What liberty! So captives deem
Who tight in dungeons are.

~Emily Dickinson

My bees, in the true spirit of this poem, were not feeling cooperative this morning, so you get, instead of a lovely close-up of a honeybee in a meadow, this picture of my little apiary instead. This was about as close as I could get without inciting rebellion. There must be some interesting weather just over the horizon–the girls are usually very sociable.

But why should they be? No one feels like it all the time. As Dickinson describes it, the temptation to seek freedom from society can be nearly overpowering. To go anywhere, do whatever, avoid annoying people, escape consequence, see the world–these are mighty inducements.

The bee’s life, as Dickinson describes it, is wildly, perfectly free. “Indefinite,” “everywhere,” “nowhere,” “liberty”–her words paint a picture of the bee’s existence as completely unfettered, dictated only by individual preference and desire, by whim and whimsy. The final stanza itself breaks free of the constraints of the four-line pattern set up at the beginning of the poem, overflowing the poet’s own boundaries.

Of course, Dickinson’s understanding of bees being what it is, this is all a lovely fiction. A bee is almost a part of a larger organism. She exists for her hive, and acts in its interests. Bees are hardly whimsical beings. They are tremendously hard workers.

Still, the image is a lovely one, and as they trace their golden flights through the sun-dappled summer air, my honeybees look like servants only of whimsy.

Bonus photo accidentally taken as a bee decided that “no man visit[s] me” and proceeded to tangle herself in my hair, at which point I just about jumped a peninsula.

Le 14 juillet

I never hear the word “Escape”
Without a quicker blood,
A sudden expectation –
A flying attitude!

I never hear of prisons broad
By soldiers battered down,
But I tug childish at my bars
Only to fail again!

~Emily Dickinson

À mes amis français, bonjour et bonne fête nationale!

If you’re unfamiliar with France’s most important national holiday, you can read more about it here. Joyeux quatorze!


FROM all the jails the boys and girls
Ecstatically leap,—
Beloved, only afternoon
That prison does n’t keep.

They storm the earth and stun the air,
A mob of solid bliss.
Alas! that frowns could lie in wait
For such a foe as this!

~Emily Dickinson

In my copy of Dickinson’s poems, this one is titled “Saturday Afternoon,” and I was meant to be writing it on Saturday afternoon, but, while the girls and boys have already ecstatically leapt from their jails, the teachers of said escaped inmates are still imprisoned by checklists and room cleanup and faculty meetings and report cards. So I give you this poem on a Sunday afternoon instead, as I prepare to go back to what my granddad liked to call “the knowledge mill” to finish up my remaining time so that I, too, may be free.